European Football

AS Monaco: How the Principality prevailed over the Parisians

It was a nasty Sunday night at Nice for Paris Saint Germain, as they probably lost their title, and they definitely lost their heads in the 3-1 defeat, with Thiago Motta and Angel Di Maria both shown straight red cards either side of Anastasios Donis’ killer third goal.

To demonstrate how much of a meltdown it was for Unai Emery’s side: it was the first time PSG had more than one player dismissed in a match since three were given their marching orders in a meeting with Evian, way back in 2013.

Nice, who have performed above all expectations this season and have already secured Champions League football next season, were just a sideshow however, in what will probably go down as the night Monaco became champions.

Leonardo Jardim’s side lead PSG by three points with four games of the Ligue 1 season to go, but Monaco have a game in hand over the holders for the last four seasons, who have just three matches left. It will be Monaco’s first league title since 2000.

It was a big night for Monaco, probably best demonstrated by the club Twitter account posting: “Belle victorie Nice” (nice victory, Nice) with the speak-no-evil monkey Emoji at full-time, swiftly followed by the league table.

The two-and-a-half thousand people that retweeted “Belle victorie” know that Monaco have more than one hand on the trophy, and so do Monaco themselves. But how have the Principality prevailed over the Parisians? By being the most exciting team in Europe, that’s how.

A 3-1 win over Toulouse at the weekend took Monaco up to 95 league goals for the season, more than anyone else in the continent but, despite their gung-ho nature being open, they have only conceded 29 in the league, which has their defence as the third best in Ligue 1, behind PSG and Nice. A goal difference of 66 is the highest by some distance.

The biggest contributor to Monaco’s goals is a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao, who has 18, and ‘El Tigre’ finally has his bite back after two disappointing loan spells in England, with Manchester United and Chelsea, that threatened to permanently end his reputation as being one of the best strikers on the planet.

Firing Falcao is not the man who the footballing world is talking about most though. No, that honour goes to the frighteningly-talented Kylian Mbappe, who has 13 goals in 13 starts in the league, and 23 goals in 37 games in all competitions, including five in eight in the Champions League, which Monaco are in the semi finals of for the first time since 2004, when they reached the final. Mbappe only turned 18 five days before last Christmas.

It is not unfair to say that Monaco are not the sort of club that draw admirers easily. A 2014 ‘WealthInsight’ and ‘Spears’ study found that just over 29% of its citizens is a millionaire, a higher percentage than any other city in the world. For some time the football club reflected that, with big-money fees paid for the likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez (now at Real Madrid) and Joao Moutinho.

Financial Fair Play has restricted them, however, and they now field a young side. Given that Monaco has an estimated population of just over 37,000 (2015 estimation) and their stadium, Stade Louis II, holds only 18,523, spending millions on players was unsustainable. They had to change.

Benjamin Mendy (22), Jemerson (24), Djibril Sidibe (24), Bernardo Silva (22), Fabinho (23), Tiemoue Bakayoko (22), Thomas Lemar (21) and Mbappe (18) are all starters, and that is not forgetting that Manchester United poached Anthony Martial (21) from them last summer. Their youth team got to the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League this season too, before they lost to Real Madrid.

The senior team, meanwhile are competing on all fronts – they are two games, against Juventus, away from their first Champions League final in over a decade, while they also got to the final of the French Cup, but PSG got the upper hand that time, winning 4-1.

There is something special happening in the Principality though and they could well be the next side to dominate Ligue 1, following Lyon winning it seven times on the trot from 2002 to 2008 and then PSG’s four titles in the last four seasons.

Equally as likely though, is Monaco falling away again, if Europe’s more elite clubs break this generation up over the course of this summer’s transfer window.

Should the latter happen, do not be surprised to see Les Monégasques make another comeback. All the foundations are there.

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Gary Neville’s Managerial Career is Fascinating for the Neutral

Ears were pricked in England when footballer-turned-pundit Gary Neville was announced as the new manager of Valencia in early December and the ex-Manchester United right-back has certainly got people talking – although not particularly in a good way.

The appointment of Neville by the Spanish giants was an intriguing one considering the reputation Neville had earned for his analysis on Sky Sports’ flagship Monday Night Football show in which he dissected the weekend’s football with on-the-pitch adversary but off-the-pitch friend Jamie Carragher. Could he live up to the hype? Had Sky Sports produced the next big thing in management? Had a future England manager been found?

So far, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. The current England coach has guided his first club to a grand total of zero wins from his first eight league games, suffered defeat at home to Lyon which resulted in Los Che exiting the Champions League at the group stages and in his most recent game, Barcelona annihilated the 2004 La Liga champions 7-0 at the Nou Camp in the Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg.

Twitter was awash with criticism for Neville, citing that punditry is a lot easier than being a manager, which alluded to a Jose Mourinho quote when Neville was initially unveiled as the Valencia boss.

“On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen.”

Neville’s standing as a pundit is expected to take a hit as a result of his poor start to life in management with the fickle nature of the football fan quick to jump on his failings, but the reality is that Neville was and is the finest footballing mind that we have had on T.V for a long while, possibly ever.

Having only retired in 2011, Neville’s inputs are fresh and genuinely insightful and this should not be forgotten purely because he has as yet failed to practice what he preaches. Film reviewer Mark Kermode cannot act and X Factor judge Simon Cowell cannot sing. Neville could play and pundit, and his managerial career is still young.

What is fascinating about Neville currently though is his press conferences as he is still behaving like the man of Monday night.

"On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen."

“On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen.”

This is incredibly refreshing to the fans and to the media who are so accustomed to tired cliches and empty statements, but Neville is genuine box office, even if it is due to unfortunate circumstances.

Following Wednesday’s walloping at the hands of Barcelona, Neville was seething at his squad and commenting like he was pointing at a tactics board as opposed to being sat at a desk while being peppered by the world’s press.

“I won’t sleep well tonight, I didn’t like what I saw, the Valencia fans didn’t deserve that tonight and we’ve got to recover incredibly quickly,” Neville said

“I wish the (Real) Betis game started in ten minutes, it’s going to be a painful three or four days. I know that. (This is) one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in football, they happen, I had some as a player, and now I’m experiencing some as a manager, but belief in myself is fine, I’ve got no problems with that.”

When asked whether he was considering resigning, a flat “no” was the response as the chewing gum in his mouth seemed to be masticated a little bit more intensely and the stare started to glare much like the only club manager he ever worked for – a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.

He was also quizzed on what he would have made of the result had he been a pundit, and, after a minor display of annoyance doubting the originality of the journalist’s question he responded:

“I would have been critical. I sit here as a coach and I won’t go into detail like I would if I was a pundit, but that was a really poor performance from us tonight. Forget the scoreline. Tonight for some reason we went back a step, a big step.”

It is now up to Neville that his next step is a forward one with a much-needed win against Betis on Sunday, otherwise the step after that could be one back into the Sky Sports studio with Carragher.